A new research project from Iowa State University will combine growing crops and using solar panels.

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The U.S. Department of Energy is funding the research project through a four-year grant totaling $1.8 million. The study will be located on a ten-acre Alliant Energy’s 1.35-megawatt solar farm a few miles south of Ames. The solar farm will begin construction in April.

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash
Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Matt O’Neal, an ISU professor of plant pathology, entomology, and microbiology, says they will be planting a variety of fruits and vegetables in the shadows of an array of solar panels.

“We’ve selected a mix of perennial and annual crops, strawberries, raspberries, broccoli, tomatoes, and there might be basil in there as well,” O’Neal says. “We picked those because we wanted to see across a range of crops which could deal best with a unique environment.”

The study is looking at the new ag concept of “agrivoltaics”. This refers to the practice of using solar sites for agricultural purposes.

As the sun moves across the sky, the plants will repeatedly be going from sun to shade.

“It’s going to be more challenging to grow anything under solar panels because we’ve got this infrastructure that’s there for generating electricity, but there could be some upsides,” O’Neal says. “That panel provides shading and it might provide a cooler microclimate so that, come the heat of the summer, some plants might thrive.”

A bill in the 2023 legislative session seeks to restrict solar panels on farmland. Senate Ag Committee chairman Dan Zumbach is the bill’s floor manager. He says the goal of the bill would be to establish limits on how close solar arrays can be to property lines, farm buildings, and homes

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